December 2008

According to a story on, the Bush administration is planning another dose of tort reform via executive order, before it turns over the keys to the White House.  The rule was published in the Federal Register in November and is scheduled to take effect December 26, 2008.  Merry Christmas indeed. 

The Christmas present is from the administration to its friends in the Railroad Industry.  The regulation gives Railroad Companies immunity from state tort lawsuits.  The Bush administration has signed numerous executive orders based on the idea that state tort lawsuits are pre-empted by federal law.  This is yet another one of those orders.

Statistics show that in the United States, a railroad accident occurs almost every two hours, in which a vehicle or pedestrian is struck by a train.  There were over 13,000 such accidents in 2007.  Over 800 deaths were recorded that year and nearly 9,000 non-fatal injuries.

Over the past 12 years, the Railroad Industry has given an average of 73% of their contributions to Republicans (according to  The administration is paying off one of the industries that helped to elect it.  This is politics at its worst.

A story on Yahoo News reports W.R. Grace settled a class action against the company relating to asbestos containing attic insulation the company sold.  THe company will pay $30 Million up front to fund a trust, another $30 Million after 3 years, and up to ten annual payments of $8 Million if terms of settlement are met, up to $140 Million total over the life of the settlement. 

The class action stems from the company’s sale of Zonolite Insulation, an asbestos containing product the company sold across the country for many years.  Over the years the product was installed in millions of homes.  The fund will pay the claims of individuals injured by this dangerous and sometimes deadly product.

Zonolite insulation was made primarily of vermiculite, an ore mined at the W.R. Grace mine in Libby, Montana.  The vermiculite in the mine contained asbestos.  The community of Libby has been devastated by asbestos related diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.  Whole families in Libby have been destroyed by these horrible diseases.  Others in cities and towns all across the country have been injured by this product, which was used to insulate their attics. 

The lawsuits alleged W.R. Grace knew of the dangers of asbestos for years, but continued to use the product and never warned anyone of the potential dangers of the product.

According to a story in the Witchita Eagle, a jury rendered a $23.5 million verdict against Swift Transportation and their driver, Robyn Getchel, who tested positive for methamphetamine while driving the Swift truck.  The injured victim, Terry Frederick, suffered a severe spinal cord injury and had around $5 million in medical bills, and was also awarded damages for future medicals, lost wages, and pain and suffering.  The judge reduced the actual award to $15.3 million to account for the fault of another driver involved in the accident. 

This verdict was not the largest rendered against Swift.  In 2007 a jury in Arizona awarded the family of a man killed in a collision with a Swift 18 wheeler $36.5 million.